New Jersey’s Indie Bookstores, Up Close and Personal

womrathsThis past weekend, I drove up and down the the state of New Jersey, hitting as many indie bookstores as I could, and some cafes as well.  That’s because I was trying to distribute a broadsheet of the first chapter of the book that I had made.  (By the way, I need to thank Todd Dills of the2ndhand.com for not only giving me the initial idea to do this, but also for his help on figuring out what kind of paper to use.  And again, big thanks to Noah Dempewolf for his killer illustrations and design.)

On the first day, I drove about 230 miles, arriving at the first store, Books & Greetings, at around 10:30am.  After that, I stopped at Womraths, because it was only about five minutes away from Books & Greetings.  Then it was to Bookends, which somehow ended up being slightly north of where I was.  At this point, I looked at my list of stores to hit, and was slightly disheartened that I still had twelve more to go.cafeeclectic

The next destination to Jersey City (which is always a pain to get to) was a waste, as Imagine Atrium was closed.  By then I was hungry, so I stopped at Cafe Eclectic and dropped off a small stack of the broadsheets and had a grilled chicken wrap with tomato and basil that was to die for.  Montclair is a great town, full of great restaurants and two indie bookstores, Watching Booksellers and Montclair Book Center.

garmin1At this point of my journey, I thought how wonderful it was that I could so easily do this, thanks to Google Maps, which I used to plot multiple destinations to figure out the order in which to hit these stores, and my Garmin GPS, which, to me, has been a life-changing device.  I’ve always been terribly directionally challenged, sometimes getting lost in the streets of my own neighborhood, but with the Garmin, I no longer have any fears.  For me, the GPS has been as revolutionary as a microwave or a cell phone, a technology that has permanently changed the way I interact with the world.

Although books have been selling moderately well through the downturn of the economy, one store didn’t make it: Goldfinch Books in Maplewood.  However, there was another one that took its place, appropriately named Words.  These folks actually have an agenda that goes beyond the selling of books: to help folks with disabilities.

The last three stops of my Saturday outing were shops I had previously visited: Mendham Books, The Bookworm, and the Califon Book Shop.  This last store was already closed by the time I got there, so I left a stack of the broadsheets and a handwritten note.smallworld

On Saturday, my wife did the driving and I made stops in the Clinton Book Shop and the town of Princeton for both of their bookstores (Chicklet Books and Labyrinth Books) and both of the Small World Coffee locations.  In the end, I’d logged a total of 368 miles in two days, and all in all, these establishments welcomed me with open arms.  Even though I enjoy the bigger chains like Borders and Barnes & Noble, there is something special about a small, personally-owned bookstore.bookworm Every one of them is unique and charming and their own way, and I can’t help but to feel a certain nobility in what they’re doing.  It’s definitely David vs. Goliath, not only against the brick-and-mortar corporations but also the online giant Amazon.com.  IndieBound, the organization that brings the indie bookstores together, has this for their current slogan: “Be a part of the story.”  A better one might be: “Read global, buy local.”

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